EDITORIAL: Making connections

Since he became Tupelo’s police chief, Tony Carleton has emphasized improving the department’s effectiveness with the public.
The message from Carleton has been that the police need the entire community’s help in solving and preventing crimes. That requires building relationships of trust, particularly among those who previously may have viewed the police with suspicion or mistrust.
The department’s community outreach broke new ground on Sunday in a forum with members of Tupelo’s Hispanic community at St. James Catholic Church. It was an effort to begin improving relations with a growing constituency.
Carleton told the crowd of about 150 that he wanted to break down the barriers between the police and Hispanics. “We have to be able to trust each other,” he said. “We encourage you to come ask us for help. If you do not report crime, then someone else will be a victim.”
With all the fears that even legal immigrants have about the fragility of their place in the system, it’s not surprising that they are often reluctant to interact with police. The forum reflects a pro-active effort by the TPD to dispel or at least reduce those fears.
The most successful police forces are those that are closely connected with all segments of their communities and that are seen as allies, not adversaries. This requires extra effort, but it’s effort that pays off in collaborative work between the public and police that is essential to combating crime.
An example: Carleton said he wants his officers to become familiar with Spanish, and he found volunteers at the forum who will help teach them. That will surely help police be more effective.
Carleton has also made better relations with Tupelo’s African-American community a top priority as well, and the controversy surrounding his appointment aside, there’s no question that Deputy Chief Robert Hall is an important asset in that effort.
It’s instructive to remember that the most tumultuous period in Tupelo’s modern-day history involved police-community relations, specifically allegations of brutality directed at black citizens, in the late 1970s. It touched off boycotts, marches and an extended period of racial unease.
This history and a general tension between minorities and police over the years in many if not most communities makes Carleton’s focus on these relationships appropriate and helpful.
Ultimately, greater trust between the police department and segments of the community where that trust has been fragile if it existed at all will result in a safer city for everyone. Tupelo’s police chief shows wisdom in that recognition.

NEMS Daily Journal